Moment of Zen: Travel Edition

I rarely go on vacations, mostly because I can’t afford them or the time off from work. But for a week after Christmas I traveled by car with my mother and son to Alabama, to visit my grandfather, who I hadn’t seen in a couple of years. I also hadn’t been to his house in about seven years, nor seen my brother and his family, so it was very overdue. Let me just say first off that I will never spend 25 hrs in the car with anyone again, as it was way too exhausting, especially as we were spending 13-14 hrs in the car per day. Discovered a few things about the states in the process, for example my thoughts on West Texas (as we drove through pretty much the whole bottom half of the state) were a ton of dead skunks on the road – which smelled horrible, bad natural gas smell from all the refineries, and a whole lot of nothing for miles and miles (which doesn’t change in the daytime). Whereas Louisiana had miles and miles of bridges b/c it is all swampy, including the longest one, a five-mile causeway across Lake Pontchartrain (see satellite image below). Most of my happy moments involved food. 

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Tues Dec 27: I found this cool visual map for my son to keep track of the states we were visiting during the course of our journey, as we were going through Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. That way he was involved with our progress and learned something about each state. It was very popular and he really got into it. 

Wed Dec 28: Got to have Cajun food in Louisiana. My mom had Crawfish Etouffee and I had a Crawfish Po-Boy. 

Thurs Dec 29: Got to have Zaxby’s for the first time since we left South Carolina (about 5-1/2 yrs before). Not sure what they use on their chicken or in their Zax sauce, but it is damn tasty and hard to replicate. 

Fri Dec 30:  Got to see my brother and his family for the first time in seven years, and meet his daughter Kayleigh, who I’ve never actually met before. It was nice catching up with them. 

Sat Dec 31: Had boiled peanuts today and next day – the one Southern food I actually miss and can’t get over here. They were pretty good for being from a gas station. 

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Mon Jan 2: Prettiest sunset of the trip driving through New Mexico. It doesn’t quite capture it in the picture, but it was gorgeous with all the orangey-reds, pinks and purples reflected off the fleecy clouds. 

Best Books I read in 2016

I am so glad 2016 is over! Though I didn’t read as many books as 2015 (mostly because a lot of what I read was fan-fiction, which I love, but doesn’t count towards my reading goals for the year), I still read a decent amount of good books (232 total). I read a ton of mangas (71 – impressive when you think they’re about 2oo pgs each) and there were a lot of really good ones there. This is the first year I’ve had a separate category for mangas on my end of the year list. The theme for this year appears to have been romances, though not intentionally, mostly just because of issues in my personal life reflecting into what I chose to read. 

Picture Books

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  • Jack Frost (Guardians of Childhood #3) by William Joyce – I love William Joyce’s books and this one was a visual masterpiece. I love the Guardians of Childhood series and this is graphically amazing younger children’s version before he brings out the full-on book for the chapter book series. A new interpretation of the Jack Frost myth, and it is this book whose story was featured on The Rise of the Guardians movie that came out in 2013. 
  • I Love You Already by Jory John – brought to you by the same guy that did Goodnight Already!, which I adored. Hilarious sequel about Bear and his neighbor Duck, who annoys the crap out of him but who he still likes. Reminds me of parents and kids. 
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  • Mother Bruce written/illustrated by Ryan T. Higgins – funniest book I read this year, hands down. Goose baby-wearing by a grumpy bear, enough said. 
  • It Came in the Mail written/illustrated by Ben Clanton – Picked it up after discovering his other adorable comic, Narwhal and Jelly (described below). An adorable book and very imaginative. A little boy, aptly named Liam (like my son), wants desperately to get something in the mail. So he writes a nice little note to the mailbox begging for something and gets a surprise, a dragon in the mail. So he asks for more and chaos ensues, but he comes up with a clever solution.

Children

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  • Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson – I read this for our tween book club and really enjoyed it, but it is a 337 page verse novel, which can kind of be scary for some kids. It is an autobiographic poem essentially about the author. 
  • The Creeping Shadow (Lockwood & Co. #4) by Jonathan Stroud – I love pretty much anything this man writes, but this one was a great continuation of the Lockwood & Co series. I have described this as “Ghost epidemic in the UK with kids as ghost hunters but the ghosts can actually kill you, and only kids can see them”. Glad Lucy finally got back with Lockwood, George and Holly. 
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  • Funny Bones: Posada and His Day of the Dead Calaveras by Duncan Tonatiuh – tells the story of one of the most famous Mexican illustrators who created a lot of the images we know today about Dia de los Muertos (one of my favorite holidays, along with Halloween)
  • The Noisy Paint Box by Barb Rosenstock – a wonderfully creative biography of abstract artist Wassily Kandinsky, whom I discovered last year, who could hear colors and see sounds
  • Narwal: Unicorn of the Sea (Narwhal and Jelly #1)  written and illustrated by Ben Clanton – a recent discovery that was too cute for words. How can you not love a Narwhal and Jellyfish who love waffles, imagination, reading, and creating their own unique pod full of friends?
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  • The Marvels by Brian Selznick – this one had been on my to-read list for ages and finally got read it. It is a masterpiece like pretty much all of his work, which he writes and illustrates. Everyone should read this. The book, which starts in 1766 and ends in 2007, is about the Marvel and Nightingale families and their connection to each other. But it is also a story about love in all its forms, acceptance, understanding, and the complicated relationships within families (which really hit home for me this year). 
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  • A New Hope – The Princess, The Scoundrel and the Farm Boy by Alexandra Bracken – picked this one up as a way to get my son who loves Star Wars more into audiobooks. I loved it, more than him. It had all the cool sound effects, a lot of the movie dialogue, and a whole backstory on Princess Leia, Han Solo, and Luke Skywalker. Am definitely listening to the other two adaptations. Highly recommended as an audiobook, though more suited to 9-14 yr olds than 5 yr olds.

Young Adult

  • The Lunar Chronicles (Cinder, Scarlett, Cress, and Winterby Marisa Meyers – probably the best series I’ve read in a while. I love fairy-tale retellings and this one is an awesome sci-fi version with cyborgs, genetically-engineered wolfmen, space pilots, and psychotic Lunars (as the name suggests, people from the Moon). Plus the romances are fantastic and varied. 
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  • Fangirl and Carry On by Rainbow Rowell – definitely two of the absolute best books I read this year. I adore all the stuff I’ve read so far from this author, and look forward to reading more in the future. You should read Fangirl first and then Carry On, though they can both stand on their own, as Carry On is literally a big part of the first book. I was totally Cather Avery and wished I could find someone like Levi. Sigh…

Manga see this post for reviews for most of them

  • Kamisama Kiss Vol 20 – 22 by Julieta Suzuki – I love this series, so anymore books I get to read are awesome. See my initial reviews of the series here. 
  • A Silent Voice Vol 1-7 by Yoshitoki Oima – I have never read a manga about bullying, esp as it was about a deaf girl, and that is what drew me to this book. It really was unlike anything I’d ever read and was a very unconventional romance. 
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  • Wolf Children: Ame and Yuki by Mamoru Hosoda – another unconventional fantasy romance (seems to be the year for them) about a half wolf/half man who meets the love of his life and their children. Great anime as well. 
  • Library Wars Vol 14
  • Library Wars Vol. 14- by Kiiro Yumi – I love the craziness of this manga. I love the ideas of a militarized librarians protecting censorship. 
  • Ouran High School Host Club, Vol 1-11 by Bisco Hatori – loved the anime so decided to read the books to see if there was any extra awesome and there is. 
  • Kimi Ni Todoke (From Me to You), Vol 1-25  by Karuho Shiina – This is one of the sweetest mangas, heck romances, I’ve read in awhile. I can identify
  • Demon Love Spell, Vol 1-6 by Mayu Shinjo – the most ridiculous idea and worst name ever for a manga, but it made me LOL and keep reading till I finished the series. 
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  • Horimiya Vol 1-5 by Hero – another great manga romance series on an unconventional topic; Two high school students, who are not all they seem, fall in love and start a relationship. They are seriously the cutest, most awkward couple ever, which makes it so fun to watch the story unfold. 

Adult

  • The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper by Phaedra Patrick – an ARC (Advanced Readers Copy) I picked up because it reminded me a bit of Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson (another awesome aging adult book). It was a bit of a romance, journey to lead you to new discoveries – i.e. your self after a traumatic event, in this case the death of Arthur’s beloved wife. 
  • The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah – read this one for my bookclub and just loved the story of two very different sisters in the French Resistance during WWII
  • Dragon Age: MageKiller (Magekiller #1-6) – An ARC I was lucky enough to review this year, I want to read the whole series now. 
  • The Japanese Lover by Isabel Allende – I’ve loved her books for years and so gladly picked this for my bookclub and enjoyed it as well
  • Poison or Protect: Delightfully Deadly #1 and Imprudence (Custard Protocols #2) by Gail Carriger – 1st one is a novella about one of her characters from the Finishing School series, which was a fun little romp. 2nd one is all about her dad going crazy, a bit of sex education, and the crap really hitting the fan in regards to the G0d-breaker Plague (a continuation of events that happened in her first series, my favorite The Parasol Protectorate).
  • The Last Kingdom and The Pale Horseman (The Saxon Stories #1-2) by Bernard Cornwell – fabulous series, that they also turned into a miniseries, about life in King Alfred the Great’s court. It is set in the 9th century and told from the viewpoint of a young boy raised by the Vikings who is actually a Saxon lord. Very much looking forward to reading more books in this series

Moments of Zen: Dec 17-23

My son is on his Winter Break and at daycare while I work for the last week of the year (ok will work next Monday too). We’re going to Alabama to visit my maternal grandfather and my brother and his family are going to be there as well. It will be a long drive from Arizona to Alabama, and I still need to find some things for my son to do. Overall, it was a good week. 

Sat: Got to see A Christmas Story: The Musical with my parents and son, and he managed to sit still and watch it for 3/4 of the show. I was very impressed with that, though probably helped that we were right next to the stage. Yay for free tickets!

Sun: Dinosaur battle, on my lap, between the good and bad dinosaurs (determined by whether or not they were smiling) that my son had gotten the previous night. Oh and a Tie-Fighter and the Millennium Falcon were also helping the fight. Also, getting to finally sit down after work and relax, whilst eating salmon and playing DA2. 

Mon: Working on a new DA story, and listening to more DA: Inquisition party banter and completely cracking up. 

Wed: Finally got to see Rogue One with my parents! I enjoyed it because it was definitely a Star Wars movie – good with a lot of personal sacrifices ultimately triumphs over evil, and had better storyline and aliens than Episode VII (my guess is because it wasn’t in the constraints of being in a trilogy and therefore they had more freedom to get creative but still stay in the SW universe). The ending was sad and I would’ve hoped for a smooch, but all they had time for was hand-holding before life ended as they knew it. Also got to have snuggle time with Boo to watch our new copy of Big Hero 6 together. Yay cheap movies at library book sales!

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Thurs: Work Christmas party and even though I was late, I still got enjoy it and see everyone (even my recently promoted friends). Finally finished the all-mages-all-the-time story line for DA 2, which I had never played before. I actually really enjoyed romancing Anders even though he totally betrays you and uses you to get his own way, but I stuck by him, didn’t kill him, and fought with him against evil templars (aka Knight Commander Meredith and the come-to-life statues). 

Fri: Reading volume 13 of Ouran High Host Club and loving the new storyline. The anime only went up to about Vol. 11 or 12, so everything past that is brand spanking new and the story has finally picked up. Currently our heroine is trying to figure out who she likes, while the guy she likes is clueless and the other one that likes her can’t decide what to do or how to behave. It is awkward cuteness at its fineness! I must say though that I like Hikaru better than Tamaki, even though I’m pretty sure she picks Tamaki. Ideally I would want her to pick Mori, as he’s my favorite, followed closely by Kyoya. Those are the two pairings I usually read fanfiction about the most. 

The Kaiser’s Last Kiss

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The Kaiser’s Last Kiss by Alan Judd

To be published: Jan 3, 2017

Kaiser Wilhelm has been exiled to the Netherlands since 1918. In 1940, the German Army (the Wehrmacht) have invaded Holland and are interested in him, or rather interested because of what he might do to support the Allies or the Third Reich. So they send a twenty-three year old SS officer named Martin Krebs to gather intelligence on the former emperor. His secondary mission is to find the British spy known to be in the area and trying to recruit the Kaiser. Despite deciding to use the SS as a way to further his career, he has become a bit disillusioned with the Nazis and what they are doing. Everything goes a little pear-shaped after Krebs falls in love with a young Jewish woman who is a servant at the Kaiser’s house. Will Krebbs be able to complete his missions? 3 stars. 

I really wanted to like this book, but I just felt like it fell flat for me. I liked the parts about the Kaiser, and I think he really stole the show away from Krebs and the Jewish maid. Apparently Christopher Plummer as the Kaiser in the movie adaption does the same thing. I always think of Wilhelm as the young man from the BBC series, Edward the Kingand Judd’s interpretation is pretty similar. I loved that he liked to talk in English and read out passages of Wodehouse to his guests. Krebb and the maid were just a kind of boring story. Yes, it was a forbidden love, especially because he was in the SS, but it didn’t do much for the story. I thought the visit from Heinrich Himmler, the head of the SS and the Gestapo, to the Kaiser’s house was much more interesting and wondered if it was true. Apparently no, though he did get a visit from Goering at some point during the war. 

Moment of Zen: Dec 10-16

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas! Or at least the Arizona equivalent, i.e. 75 degrees F  (24C roughly) in December. I made a Christmas playlist last week to listen to, and we put up the Christmas tree. I am looking forward to the homemade mincemeat my mom and I made in October, and the German treats like Lebkuchen and Stollen. I still need to get Christmas presents, but am trying not to stress about that. 

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Sat: Listening to CD from Teen Central whilst working on updating Kids Cafe info. Made me feel super accomplished for only the third time this week. 

Sun: Listening/Moving to GoNoodle videos with my son and watching Legend of Oz: Dorothy’s Return, which was a little camp, but we enjoyed it (with snuggling of course). 

Mon: Snuggly Boo time this morning, whilst reading Penguin’s Christmas Wish by Salina Yoon (pic at top of page), The Vanishing Pumpkin by Tony Johnston, and Narwhal: Unicorn of the Sea written and illustrated by Ben Clanton (pic below). Also a co-worker, who I had been talking to about the book, gave me a library copy of the just released The Hidden Oracle (The Trials of Apollo #1) by Rick Riordan (his newest gods series) which he had just finished. I thought it was sweet that he thought of me 🙂 . 

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Tues: The look on my friend’s faces when I gave them my handmade Christmas presents, definitely a great thing. Started The Hidden Oracle (The Trials of Apollo #1) by Rick Riordan on my lunch break and already got into it. It seems like Apollo is probably going to be one of those characters that is a complete ass-hat in the beginning but grows on you by the end of the series. 

Wed: Got our dog Poppet a bath, nail trim and haircut. It may not sound like much, but haven’t been able to afford it in ages, she feels better and everything I own isn’t covered in white pooch fur. 

Thurs: Playing Sorry! with my son and then eating dinner and singing along to Christmas music. 

Fri: Listening to DA: Inquisition Party Banter  and cracking up whilst working on my ongoing Collection Development project at work.

Moments of Zen: Dec 3 – 9

Last week was a bit of a wash-out, i.e. a pretty craptastic in my personal and professional life, hence why I didn’t post my weekly Moment of Zen. So I am trying to take a more positive spin on things to improve that, as I am tired of being so sad and angry all the time. 

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What I need to keep in mind this week and in the future

Sat: Going to the library with my son to pick up our books on hold, and coming home to read him Dog Man by Dav Pilkey. Also having him “read” me from his giant adult Dinosaur book – basically just telling me what he thinks each dinosaur did and what period they lived during. 

Sun: Working on my Christmas presents and got a fair amount done. Got to have coffee and breakfast with my dad after church and before I had to go to work. Started watching a hilariously awkward show on Netflix called Chewing Gum, but got tired of it after awhile. 

Mon: Finished the fifth volume of Ouran High School Host Club by Bisco Hatori and Horimiyu #3 by Hero (I am really enjoying this series, super adorable awkward characters). Rewatched episodes of Glee, which really crack me up and of course, sing along. Makes me wish I had a show like that in high school. 

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Miyamura at school and at home (can’t see the tattoos but they are there – so freaking cute!)

Tues: Got a fair amount of research done on my future 5-8 yr old literacy program for the library. Still trying to figure out how I want to structure it and make a proposal to get support from other organizations/supervisors. Also finished Ouran High School Host Club #6 (best one yet!). 

Wed: Got to see my counselor for the first time in two weeks and was definitely needed as last week was such a disaster. I always feel calmer after I’ve talked to him. Put up Christmas Tree with my son and he helped me decorate – I was rather proud of myself when we finished. 

Thurs: Hanging with Boo at Steele Indian Park after school. He played on the playground equipment, we went up and down the hill, playing with his bouncy ball, and hung out with the ducks. Also discovered Go Noodle again, and we sang and danced along to that. This is my favorite one

Fri: Listening to the Dragon Age score and trying to focus on my work – didn’t really work, but made me feel a bit better. Pinning the hell out of Dragon Age stuff today, can’t seem to stop. Getting to read Horimiya #5 during lunch and wishing the series was longer than 6 books because I love it so much. Seriously Miyamura is the best boyfriend ever! Eating a carrot cake cupcake and savoring it. 

Moments of Zen: Thanksgiving Edition 2016

I started Moments of Zen because I wanted to show that I was grateful for things going on in my daily life and it has become a journal of sorts in that respect. Because this week  is Thanksgiving and I have an awful lot of things to be thankful for lately, I would like to take this time to list a few. 

I’m grateful for:

  • A roof over my head : (yes it is not my ideal location but the rent is decently priced and it’s close to Liam’s school and my job)
  • My job – I get to work with kids and parents recommending books and doing what I got a Master’s Degree for (yes you do need a Masters Degree to work professionally in libraries) and finding new ways to share my love for books with new people; also the money helps me pay for food, gas and other essentials
  • My family, esp my parents, brother and son – the last 4 months have been the hardest of my life and they have been totally supportive of everything
  • My friends – again, they’re amazing and supportive; I can laugh, cry, get angry, frustrated or excited and they still want to hang with me and hear my ideas/craziness
  • A creative outlet – I have been writing a short story and I write poems to express myself; Having a creative outlet is super important and vital to me
  • A Novel Idea – the book club my friend Joanna and me started back in July and I look forward to it so much every month; it is helping keep me afloat 
  • St. John’s – my church, I hadn’t gone in ages before I started going again back in Sept but I’m glad I started going again. I feel like I can go here and be sad/emotional and that’s okay. Also a place where I can pray and be heard. Plus everyone there is so nice and supportive, especially Father Bruce. 
  • My counselor: Because he always listens and offers advice, even when everything around me seems to be out of control and really crappy
  • Books (written and audio) and Reading/Listening – because I literally couldn’t function without them
  • Everything Dragon Age – because it’s escapism and fun, or as this article says, “fantasy [is] not as an escape from reality, but a different way of engaging with it.” Below pic is my every time dilemma with DA2. 

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Sat: Today was a good day after work. I made a goat cheese, pesto and red pepper tart, which was amazing (based off this recipe). I worked on my DA short story and played more DA 2, my latest game obsession again. I’ve played it so many times, but I just love the story and characters. 

Sun: Bookclub was Sunday night, and even though I was an hour late, I still had fun and good food there. We discussed Like Water for Chocolate, which pretty much everyone enjoyed. Plus there was Tres Leches Cake, which was delicious. 

Mon: I was running late in the morning before work and didn’t get to take a shower. So I went back during my lunch break and took one and read a bit of The Creeping Shadow, which is getting so good, I didn’t want to put it down. 

Tues: Catching up with my friend Joanna. We’ve had very different work schedules lately, so I don’t always get to talk. 

Wed:  Spending some time with my son and reading Captain Underpants #7 to him. 

Thurs: Flying kites with my dad, mom and my son before Thanksgiving dinner. The dinner itself was pretty damn tasty (Thanks Dad for the awesome smoked turkey!), and then I got to go see Beautiful, the musical inspired by Carole King’s life (which was way cooler -because of the great music – than I expected it to be, but also really sad). I had no idea she helped write so many famous songs from the 1960s and 70s.